What do you most want to know from candidates taking part in Azerbaijan’s 2005 parliamentary elections? And from the officials and election observers charged with counting and monitoring the vote? Send in your questions from October 31 through November 6, and we’ll deliver the answers.

November 7
Urdur Gunnarsdottir, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Spokesperson

Did Azerbaijan's parliamentary elections meet international standards? And what was reported to the OSCE's Baku mission about the slew of candidate withdrawals on the eve of the election? Do chances remain for future dialogue between the opposition and government?

1. Would you call the conduct of today's [yesterday's] elections democratic and in keeping with international standards?

This election did not meet a number of international standards for democratic elections. While there were improvements in some respects during the pre-election period, there was uncertainty regarding issues such as voter registration. There were also continued restrictions on the freedom of assembly, a fundamental right, and this marred the campaign period. The voting was generally calm, but the election day deteriorated significantly during the counting and, in particular, the tabulation of the results.

2. What did the OSCE/ODIHR learn from the conduct of the 2003 presidential elections that helped shape its monitoring work for 2005?

Our monitoring of the 2005 elections is based on a methodology that has been shaped over the last decade and observation of well over 150 elections. We are not focusing on comparing this election to previous ones, but we have obviously been looking at recommendations we made following earlier election, and to which extent they have been implemented.

3. Apart from press conferences and a report, how will the OSCE/ODIHR make its findings about the elections known to President Ilham Aliyev and the government?

This remains to be seen, but we remain ready to continue co-operate with the authorities in their efforts to hold democratic elections in line with international standards. Such cooperation has taken place for years; we have for instance made repeated suggestions for improvements to the election legislation and other aspects of the election. Some of them have been implemented, such as inking of voters' fingers, but important parts of those suggestions have not.

4. Some Azerbaijani people got the impression that there would not be any "injustices" committed during the vote since "the foreigners" said they wouldn't allow them. Can OSCE monitors actually stop election "injustices" from occurring?

The role of the OSCE observers is not to interfere in the election, but to observe it. The observers can, and do, point out irregularities they observe to the relevant authorities, for instance polling station commissions. They can not demand changes and they do not have any executive power over the election process. However, the presence of observers does often have a positive effect, since it increases the confidence of voters to see that the election is being observed.

5. Do you consider that there was enough time for adequate implementation of President Aliyev's October 25 decree on inking voters' fingers? Some local observers have claimed that water was being used instead. Did your observers notice any difficulties with use of the ink?

The authorities worked hard to introduce inking of voter's fingers within a very short timeframe. These procedures, particularly checking of voters' fingers for traces of ink, were not followed in 11 per cent of polling stations we visited. There were also some polling stations that did not check voters' fingers at all.

6. How would you evaluate the numerous last-minute candidate withdrawals that characterized this race? Just an outbreak of cold feet . . . or do claims about pressure being brought to bear on candidates from local governments and political parties bear any weight?

Our mission received allegations of illegal pressure exerted on can--didates to withdraw in many constituencies. This pressure included threats of criminal prosecution, tax investigations and closures of businesses owned by candidates and their families. In some cases, there were applications to the Court of Appeal for deregistration of candidates for allegedly bribing individual voters with small sums of money. Many deregistered candidates alleged that such petitions were politically motivated and that the last-minute nature of the cases gave almost no time to prepare a defense.

7. Will the OSCE/ODIHR be in contact with the opposition during their rallies? In terms of listening to their reported instances of voting violations? Or encouraging a resolution of their differences with the government?

The OSCE always encourages dialogue and stands ready to be of assistance. We have been in contact with the opposition as well as the authorities throughout this election process. We follow up on the reports we receive and our findings are based on what out observers are able to verify.

8. Does your organization have any hope that government-opposition talks can be revived in the future? On any topic?

It is too early to tell what will happen next, we certainly hope that all sides will refrain from violence, but rather engage in a dialogue.

AZERBAIJAN: ELECTIONS 2005 is a production of EurasiaNet.org with funding provided by the Open Society Institute.
Copyright © 2005 EurasiaNet.org.